How to Become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

In the healthcare industry, there are numerous career paths. Selecting the right path for you will depend on many factors: what kind of work you want to do, how much school you’d like to complete, and how much responsibility you’d like to hold. Many healthcare workers begin their careers as certified nursing assistants (CNA). A CNA works under the supervision of licensed practical nurses (LPN) or registered nurses (RN).

Role of a CNA

At the core of every healthcare organization, you’ll find CNAs. They provide essential care for patients in nursing homes, rehab facilities, and hospitals, such as assistance with eating, walking, or grooming. 

Important qualities of CNAs include effective communication skills, compassion, patience, and physical stamina. These qualities aren’t taught in training; however, you should be mindful of them when deciding if this is the right career for you. Oftentimes, CNAs develop special bonds with their patients simply due to the amount of time spent serving them.  

Getting Certified

Regulations vary from state to state but all require a high school diploma or GED and an acceptable background check. Certified nursing assistant programs typically run six to 12 weeks and can be found at high schools, community colleges, vocational, or technical schools. Some hospitals and nursing homes offer training as well. Most programs offer day, evening, or weekend courses to accommodate busy schedules. Although certifications seem quick and simple — they will require commitment and effort. 

You’ll learn basic nursing skills, anatomy and physiology, and safety procedures. The subject areas of nutrition and physical therapy are also covered. The hands-on classroom instruction you’ll gain from training is invaluable. You’ll be taught to care for a patient properly, take vital signs, CPR, and many other tasks essential for a patient’s daily living. 

If additional flexibility is needed, online courses are also available. Online training allows you to study the same material from the comfort of your home. Video lessons will guide you through training. Most states do require an in-person training to be completed at a local hospital or clinic in addition to the online lessons.

You’ll need to check with your state to make sure you are meeting all requirements for licensure; these will include a minimum number of clinical hours. A popular program option is offered by the American Red Cross. Be sure that your program of choice is recognized by your state governing board. As you sift through training options, by selecting a program that boasts small class sizes and instructors with professional experience, you’ll be setting yourself up for success. 

Regardless of the route you take, during your training you’ll learn in a quick amount of time the necessities to communicate with patients, nurses, and doctors and care for your patient with confidence. 

The average cost of a state-certified program is $1,300. 

Following your formal education course, you’ll take a state-issued competency exam that consists of multiple choice questions. Consider preparing for your real examination by taking a practice test. Questions can cover a large range of topics including patient rights, communication, best practices in patient care, and ethical standards. 

You’ll also have to demonstrate a few simple clinical skills, such as taking blood pressure or recording a pulse. If you have completed all your clinical hours with success, you should be set to ace this part of your state exam. 

Continuing Education

A CNA certification typically lasts for two years. In addition to completing your initial training and certification, some states mandate CNAs complete a certain number of continuing education credits each year to maintain their qualifications. These are offered by a variety of educational providers and healthcare facilities. Always check with your state’s governing board to learn about requirements in your area. Many employers offer continuing education in-house to help employees meet recertification requirements. Consider asking what options are available when interviewing for your first job.

Some CNAs utilize their work experience as a nursing assistant to springboard their career. Becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a registered nurse (RN) is a common career move for many CNAs with experience. 

Job Search & Outlook

A CNA career provides job security, flexibility, reasonable pay, and the possibility of advancement. Due to the versatility of the work, CNA positions can often be found to match an individual’s interest or work environment preference. Hours can be long and the work tiring, but the duties of a CNA are tremendously satisfying.  

If you’ve decided that becoming a certified nursing assistant is right for you — begin researching the options available in your area and register for classes soon. 

Download the Clipboard Health app to learn more about CNA employment opportunities in your area today.

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